By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

Two defending state champions, Roseburg in 6A and Dallas in 5A, are coming to McNary as the Celtics open wrestling season on Friday, Nov. 30 with the Jerry Lane Invitational.

“They’re tough, top of the line,” McNary head coach Jason Ebbs said. “We like wrestling them. We like setting the bar. We like believing that’s the level we’re going to reach and beyond.”

Ebbs has been impressed with what he’s seen in the McNary wrestling room.

“I’m seeing a better focus in the kids and I’m just seeing a better confidence in them,” Ebbs said.

“We’re going through drills faster. They’re catching on a little faster.”

As usual, he just wishes there was more of them.

“With a school of 2,000 kids, all I want is 10 percent,” said Ebbs. “If we can get 200, we’re doing our job right. We’re just trying to make wrestling accessible to everybody. We’re looking for kids to take on the challenge and to grow.”

McNary had a little over 60 attend the first week of practice, which Ebbs called “on the good side of typical.”

“We’re bringing out a nice solid young group of kids,” Ebbs said. “We’ve got a little bit bigger freshmen group. It’s the first group that had a chance to wrestle three years in middle school.”

The Celtics are led by senior Enrique Vincent, who has won back-to-back district championships and placed third in the state at 120 pounds as a sophomore and fourth at 126 as a junior.

“I’m excited because it’s my last year,” said Vincent, who weighed in at 140 pounds to open the season and hopes to improve his technique and cardio.

McNary junior Nicolette Parra leads a small group of girls.

Parra, who has wrestled since middle school, won the Sierra Nevada Classic in Reno last season and then placed fourth at the girls state tournament

Surgery to repair a broken knuckle kept her from wrestling much in the offseason.

“I was doing a lot better than I thought I would,” Parra said of the first week. “I was wrestling with some people that I had a hard time with last year and it’s been a lot easier than I thought it would be.”

While Parra enters her junior year more confident, she also knows she won’t sneak up on anyone.

“I know what I’m capable of now but also people know my name now,” Parra said.

“I feel like last year people wouldn’t take me as seriously but now people know what to expect.”

While the OSAA will have its first official girls state wrestling tournament this season, Parra isn’t ruling out wrestling with the boys and qualifying for the traditional state tournament.

“I want to see if I can aim for boys state because I feel like it’s more of a challenge,” she said.

Sophomore Grady Burrows is the only other Celtic who has wrestled at the state tournament after placing fourth at 106 pounds at the district tournament last season.

McNary does return Garrett Wampler, who finished fifth in the district at 170, and Daniel Hernandez, who placed sixth at 120 pounds.

Noah Gatchet, a junior who wrestled on the varsity at 106 as a freshman but sat out last season, is back.

“He’s a good kid and I’m happy to have him back,” Ebbs said. “He’s a good influence on our team. He’s done club wrestling. He’s been around the mat a little bit. The good news is when he was a freshman, I think he weighed about 80 pounds. He’s up to about 113.”

The Jerry Lane Invitational, which also features Cleveland, Grant, Glencoe and Jefferson, begins Friday at 4 p.m.

“That’s the time when we start taking advantage of what we’ve learned so far, put things to the test,” Ebbs said. “A tournament usually provides a little value to what we’re doing in practice, helps kids set goals, helps them understand what it looks like outside of the room.”